Of course, if they had really wanted to be helpful, they could’ve come up with a way to help us remember where we parked. But perhaps they figure that the more psychologically intimidating the thought of leaving is, the longer we’ll hang around — just the way I apparently have with this topic, which turned out to be a source of material for not just one column but two.
For the first time since I began writing Everyboomer in 2004, I’m carrying an idea forward from one month to the next the way the narrative continues from chapter to chapter in a book. So in a way, you’re actually getting kind of a sneak peek here at the future book that you’ve heard me going on about expanding these columns into — Everyboomer: The Antibiography of a Generation.
And if this were the future — when my [...let me dream here...] best-selling work of humor, history and social commentary is completed and published — and you were reading its You Are Here.-inspired chapter, it would mean that you had officially made it halfway through the book. Because that’s exactly where I plan to place it, for reasons that will hopefully become clear when you read this month’s second installment, which begins right where last month’s ended.
Not a shopping mall map, anyway. And if you have trouble getting your bearings in a place that size, I certainly hope you take extra care plotting your course when venturing into the world beyond its walls — particularly if you’re counting on what you think you know about what’s out there to get you where you want to go. Because a lot of what you know is — or, given enough time, will be — wrong.
Take maps, for instance. If you want to understand [...or at least try to...] what’s going on out there, a copy of the latest world map should be an invaluable resource, right? Unfortunately, with the world in a constant state of political and cultural flux, the latest version only stays the latest version until the next time that — either peacefully or, increasingly, not-so — power changes hands somewhere.
Whether they’re fought with weapons or words, battles frequently redraw borders. And the names the countries emerging from those conflicts choose to be known by change — often repeatedly and sometimes even back again to the ones they went by before.
So if you’re wondering what’s up with Burma, East Bengal, Ceylon, Siam, British Honduras, the Khmer Republic, the Dutch East Indies, French Sudan, Judea or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics since you did that project on them back in fifth grade, good luck. Like so many things, those names are yesterday’s news.
If you want to look them up today, you’ll have to search respectively for Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Belize, Cambodia, Indonesia, Mali, the West Bank and Russia, along with the passel of This- or That-istans our good, old cold war buddy the USSR broke apart into. [But you might want to hurry. There’s no telling how long any of them will last before assuming a new alias — either voluntarily or with “encouragement” from a neighbor.]
The result of this on-going game of musical moniker-mangling is that the picture of the world that teachers pulled down in front of their classroom blackboards to show to the grade school brats of the 1950s was very different from the one those now-adult Boomers [...who have brats of their own with brats of their own...] fear for the future of today.
With the world around them doing a pretty good job of turning itself inside out even without the help of Boomers’ notorious fondness for stirring the socio-political pot, like every generation, they had no choice but to put their shaggy-haired heads down, square their 76+ million pairs of leisure suit- and/or peasant blouse-clad shoulders, and keep on truckin’.
But while one’s “journey of self-discovery” may be a rite of passage that everyone must navigate on his or her own terms [...and dressed in whatever unfortunate fashion choice the trends of the day dictate...], we should consider ourselves lucky that we didn’t end up hopelessly lost on ours, particularly considering that, when it comes to determining direction, the Earth hasn’t exactly been playing fair.
Traditionally, every generation judges every other generation. Kind of like fraternity and sorority hazing. [I didn’t say it was a good tradition.] So when one demographic accuses another of having “lost its moral compass,” it may be quaintly poetic but it’s hardly headline-worthy.
Besides, with the public opinion windstorm of ethical rationalizations and conflicting values blowing all around us these days, imagine how hard it must be to find your spiritual “true north” on a moral compass when the actual, physical magnetic north you use a real compass to find isn’t even where it used to be anymore.
You have to wonder what else may not be what you thought it was when you discover that, thanks to the effect that our planet’s shifting molten core has on its electromagnetic field, the positions of Earth’s northern and southern magnetic poles are not and have never been stationary. In fact, between the time the very first Baby Boomer was born on January 1, 1946, and today, “magnetic north” has actually moved northwest more than 1,000 miles.
Admittedly, this may not be all that much of a hardship for Boomers, who’ve always appeared to have had little if any trouble telling the world where it should be heading culturally and politically. [Or for that matter for the guys of any generation who were responsible for earning the rest of us that totally unfair reputation for never stopping to ask for directions.]
Actually, if you look at life from that multi-generational perspective, it hardly really matters if your compass works or not. Because where you are is nowhere near as important as when you are. After all, physically, you can plant your feet and stay pretty much rooted to one spot for as long as you like. Time, however, never stops moving.
As I already mentioned, if you were reading this in Everyboomer the book, you would physically be in the very center of it. If you were at the chronological center of the Baby Boom generation, it would be the stroke of Midnight on July 3, 1955, exactly halfway through the generation’s 6,940-day procreation party. And surprisingly, the world around you wouldn’t look all that different on Day 3,470 from the way it did on Day 1.
Down at the malt shop, boys would still be sporting crew cuts and chugging cherry Cokes and girls would still be wearing pony tails and complaining about having to babysit their whinny, Davy Crockett coonskin cap-wearing little brothers. And the mood would probably be about as jaunty as you’d expect, given the vivid impression TV’s idealized image of the era has left on our collective memories.
Granted, the folks actually living those Happy Days days were still working to free their memories of images of Normandy’s beach and Korea’s 38th parallel. But they took what comfort they could in the knowledge that those darker days were behind them. They had no idea what was still coming.
So long, Pat Boone. Don’t forget your white buck shoes. And you’d better hurry, because the British are coming. Sure, in 1955, the then pre-fab four’s John Lennon and now “Sir” Paul McCartney were still just a couple of teenage working class blokes in Liverpool. But it wouldn’t be long before their hits would hit the fans, so to speak — right about the same time that America’s boisterous Boomers would be ready to rock ’n’ roll. And nothing would ever be the same.
But long hair and youthful rebellion were the least of our parents’ worries. A new [...well, sort of new...] war was brewing in Southeast Asia. Political leaders and sociocultural icons were being assassinated. Riot-primed protesters were massing in the streets across the country, demanding civil rights, women’s equality and economic justice. It’s hard to imagine those being anyone’s “happy days.”
There’s an old riddle that poses the question “How far can you walk into a forest?” The answer is “Halfway.” Because once you reach the middle, from that point on, regardless of the direction you choose to go, you’re walking out. Whether we realize it or not, we’re always going to be in the “middle” of something. Something life-changing. Something world-shaping. Something tragic. Something glorious.
If only we knew what was going to happen next. But we never will... until it does.
© 2017 Doug Carpenter